Better Call Saul talks to itself. In this YouTube video about the various callbacks to Breaking Bad throughout the companion series Saul, showrunner Peter Gould refers to the “encyclopedia” of the world — the people, places, items, songs, sayings and histories of Bad and Saul — and there’s no doubt it’s an interesting way to craft a serial. We talked about the “slavish devotion to itself” present in both series in our review of this season’s opener “Switch“, but that phrase somehow makes it seem like a negative thing. So: Better Call Saul talks to itself. It talks to Bad, bringing back characters and diners and trinkets galore, but midway through the second season it’s able to turn heel and talk to itself as well. In “Rebecca” Jimmy returns to the courthouse where he spent his public defender days — seen largely in “Uno” and “Mijo” — and his return highlights both the ways in which he’s changed and the ways in which he hasn’t.
But Saul talks to us, too, and that can be a mark of a great show. Without being condescending or hand-holdy in the least, Saul pivots outward every now and then and asserts something that’s not exactly a callback or an easter egg per se; more of a cue, visual or otherwise, that acknowledges something that only the viewers would be able to appreciate. The people in the show may realize that there’s a connective thread running from the Salamancas to Mike Ehrmantraut to Saul Goodman and beyond, but there are other things that only the people outside the show would appreciate.
The first shot of “Rebecca” is one of those: Chuck screws in a new lightbulb. That’s it. He removes the dead one and holds it between his teeth as he installs the fresh one. He’s wreathed in flickering light as the electricity pours through the new filament. We realize this is Younger Chuck, Flashback Chuck, Full-Head-Of-Hair Chuck. Significantly, this is Chuck before he was afflicted with his (real or imagined) aversion to electromagnetism. We’ve seen this Chuck before, of course, rolling his eyes as Slippin’ Jimmy gets arrested yet again and failing to hide his discontent as his little brother noses his way into the law profession. But the glowing light is a nod to us because only we know where Chuck ends up, namely cowering in his dim unplugged house under an aluminum blanket. Even though this Chuck is younger, flashback, full-head-of-hair, in-the-past Chuck, the first shot talks to us in linear fashion by commenting on what we’ve seen before.
Shedding light on the past was significant in more than just that image in “Rebecca”, though, and after last week’s action-packed “Gloves Off” we got a much slower episode intent on careful character development and little else. It’s one of the most successful episodes of Saul yet in that regard, especially considering the fact that Rhea Seehorn finally got more time to shine as Kim. Though she’s always been important and arguably became a key player in the second season, “Rebecca” gave her some actual pain and made her fight through it. Jimmy’s intricately tied to this plight, and so it was all the more impressive to hear Kim demand he back off: “You don’t save me. I save me.”
And that made it all the more tragic when Kim believes she finally turns the corner, knocking a lucrative deal out of the park, only to find that she’s straight back in the doghouse. There’s a brilliant aerial shot of her standing outside HHM, the camera more or less on top of the flagpole. Kim looks as tiny as she feels. (Sidenote: Saul is surprisingly chock full of great aerial shots, especially the one from “Gloves Off” that twists right as Mike pulls out of a parking lot, rises as he pulls a U-turn, and then twists left to follow him into the lot across the street.) But more tragic than that is the following scene, wherein Chuck relates the story of Charles McGill Senior, the father of Chuck and Jimmy, as Kim listens about a past she never knew. More and more it seems as if she’s able to be convinced that she feels tiny because of Jimmy’s actions, and that’s complicated even further by the fact that Kim really likes Jimmy. She doesn’t want to believe that she gets the shaft because she’s in his orbit.
Chuck is a convincing little bastard, though, playing the sympathy card for all it’s worth. As Jimmy juggles Davis & Main (“This is my babysitter Erin”) and his more interesting “pro bono” cases (“This is my grandpa Mike”) it’s clear that Chuck is steering Kim down a particular path. He knows his brother, and Jimmy won’t likely disappoint if he’s tested in front of Kim in the next few installments. This trouble brewing between Kim and Jim — we’re the ones with the most insight, aren’t we? Jimmy certainly knows he’s in hot water, as he’s not an idiot and has apologized to Kim multiple times. But we see all sides: Jimmy’s private moments, Kim’s consequential struggles, Chuck’s past frame of reference for the hurt that Jimmy can cause. The bitch of it is that even with all of this context it’s not easy to know how to feel. Do we sympathize with Jimmy? Or Kim? Or even Chuck? Saul talks to us, sure, and it says a lot of meaningful stuff, but it’s a far greater show for never having to spell it out.